Walking Amongst the Undead – Practical Benefits of Humans vs. Zombies

I nervously glance behind me for what seems like the tenth time in the last thirty seconds. The pleasant California day, with its clear, sunny skies and balmy weather, seems anything but comfortable; all I can see are the potential dangers hidden behind every leafy shrub, every unknown corner, and every shadowy pillar. I feel as if I am being watched from every direction by eyes waiting to see me turn my back. My eyes nervously scan from left to right, searching for any trace of bright colors. My mind races to formulate responses to different hypothetical scenarios. An acorn falls behind me and my heart skips a few beats as my head instinctively jerks around. I hear footsteps behind me and lunge forward without even thinking, ready to launch into a sprint, only to see that it’s merely a squirrel burying its acorns. Yep, it’s that time of the year again: Humans versus Zombies.

Background: Humans versus Zombies, colloquially referred to as “HvZ,” is an intense, paranoia-filled, stress-inducing, community-building, five-day game that just concluded this past Saturday night. The premise is simple: zombies are trying to eat humans; humans are trying to survive. Of course, there are many more rules (the rulebook is several pages deep), but the basic framework is this: everyone who volunteered to play wears bright yellow bandanas; if you’re a human, you wear it on your arm, and if you’re a zombie, you wear it on your head. Zombies tag humans to “eat” them, and to defend themselves, humans are allowed to use Nerf guns and socks (clean socks only!) to stun zombies. If you’re interested in the graphic details, the rulebook can be found online.

HvZ can elevate stress levels beyond those experienced during finals week, can demolish one’s social life (for five days anyway), and may lead to some nutritional deficiencies in rare occasions (substituting instant ramen for dining hall meals is hardly an equivalent swap). Some people (i.e. the hardcore players) may not have any problem with any of this (perhaps this was already the case before the game started), but for the average reader, perhaps it seems a bit irrational to play, and indeed it is! Quite irrational in fact. Why else would anyone voluntarily expose themselves to such nerve-wracking conditions? The answer is that (a) it’s fun (may require you to be part adrenaline junky), (b) it’s only something that can be done during college, and (c) it’s actually a valuable life experience. The first two probably make at least some degree of sense; everyone has different tastes, but as for the third one: really? Is playing HvZ actually valuable in any aspect? In fact it is, and here’s how:

1) HvZ improves your social connectivity. HvZ can certainly be damaging to the routines of one’s regular social life (you’re probably less likely to eat dinner with non-players), but it also has some serious potential to expand your social network. Is your ID class infested by zombies on Thursday? The other human in the class, even if you’ve never talked to them, just became your new best friend in your panicked sprint back to South Campus. Find yourself stranded without any friends at Frank breakfast? The human sitting two tables over from you just became your go-to guy / girl. You’ve never seen true solidarity until you’ve seen a bunch of frightened humans spontaneously banding together to make it back to their rooms.

2) HvZ improves your ability to plan ahead. One does not casually go to dinner, class, or really anywhere on campus during HvZ. Step outside your room without a plan, and you’ll quickly find yourself a newly initiated member of the zombie horde. You have to map routes, coordinate with friends, design a formation, choose a time, successfully execute the plan, and then figure out how to make it all work on the way back as you nervously count the increasing number of zombies who are also eating in the same dining hall / taking the same class as you. It’s admittedly more advanced planning than some people have ever done in their lives leading up to college, and the results are fairly positive across the board. You’re probably one of the most punctual people to class everyday as you arrive five minutes before any zombie in your class has even thought about leaving their room. You’ll never miss an appointment or meeting because you’ve probably been thinking about the safest route for several hours / days. You won’t forget your homework or to wear long pants to lab because you simply can’t afford (physically or mentally) to run all the way back to South Campus through a potential minefield of zombies.

3) HvZ improves your leadership skills. Regardless of which side you find yourself on, opportunities abound to step up and take charge as a leader. Perhaps you’re going to lead a squad of humans to complete one of the day mission’s objectives. Or maybe you’re organizing a team to help ferry some terrified first-years from their ID classes. On the flip side, you might be coordinating the ambush of the first-years after their ID classes. Or you could organize a hunting pack to stake out Seaver South / North in anticipation of the inevitable arrival of lab-bound humans. The important part is that you could be a key cog in the machinery of the human survivors or the zombie horde. And of course, being a moderator of the game actually forces you to do so; some even claim that it’s a positive addition to the resume.

4) HvZ improves your personal fitness. Haven’t had time to go to the gym? Couldn’t fit a P.E. course into your schedule? Fear not, because HvZ will keep you on your toes and on the run for most of the week. Whether it’s a mad dash between Mason and Pearson or a test of endurance being chased all the way back to South Campus from the library, HvZ abounds with spontaneous opportunities for your daily calorie burn. Reflexes a bit slow? By the end of the week, your reflexes will be so good that you can hit an acorn falling from the tree before it touches the ground (okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration).

I think it’s fair to say that the four benefits that I listed (social connectivity, planning ahead, leadership, and personal fitness) are considered by most people to be critical components of future success in any educational or professional setting, and although they might arise out of slightly different motivations and develop into slightly different expressions during Humans versus Zombies, by no means should their value be diminished simply because they are the product of some “mere game.” This game really does inspire and teach practical skills (albeit in a specific environment). It might even give you a leg up over your non-player friends in the event of a real zombie apocalypse.

Personally, I play HvZ for all of these reasons, but the most important of all, which I don’t believe needs any explanation is simply to have fun, to live life, and to enjoy being young. I’ll always be at college for the academics, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some pit stops to take a break from being a student, and I hope that you do the same, even if that’s in a vastly different fashion from playing HvZ (lest you burn yourself out by overloading academically).